Understanding Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

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*Originally published in healthscopemag.com

Acceptance and commitment therapy is an alternative pain management treatment with a mindful approach.

What is ACT?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 people in the United States suffer from chronic pain. This common and debilitating health condition can be tricky to treat and hard on an individual’s mental health, especially when it feels like nobody believes them.

Fortunately, there are ways to cope with chronic pain. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is one emerging option. This mindfulness-based therapy focuses on the connection between the brain and body using a biopsychosocial model. It helps patients accept what is beyond their control so that they can get back to the activities they love with a new perspective, adding to their overall quality of life.

How does ACT work?

ACT stems from cognitive and behavioral therapy, and encourages patients to accept their situation and set realistic goals. Chronic pain can lead to hopelessness and depression, as well as frustration when treatment options don’t alleviate symptoms. But when patients learn to address their pain on a cognitive level, they can avoid the fear that leads to limitations. Breaking free of mental barriers can make life more manageable and improve physical health along the way.

What to expect?

Before starting ACT, your doctor will talk to you about your history of chronic pain: When did it start, where does
it occur, and what other treatment options have you tried? From there, they’ll perform a musculoskeletal evaluation to determine the precise origin of the pain. Together, you’ll discuss the factors that influence your condition, like weather, temperature, and your autoimmune health. All of this helps your doctor – and you – fully understand your pain so the acceptance therapy can begin.

The main focus of ACT is not to decrease your pain, but to help you return to the things you value doing in life. Through this compassionate, nonjudgmental, and mindful approach, you can find peace in your situation and get back to the life you once enjoyed.

An Expert Weighs In

“I want you to know having pain is not your fault. It is not your choice. Your brain is just doing what it is designed to do. ACT therapy helps you understand your pain, gives you new strategies, and helps shift focus to return to what you find valuable in life. Working with people who have been limited by pain for extended periods of time and seeing them get their life back has been a rewarding part of being a physical therapist.”

Brandy Parker, DPT
Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics

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